Sometimes a key actor can’t — or won’t — return for a sequel, so the filmmakers decide to write his or her character out of the series. Maybe they’ll reduce it to a phone conversation in which you can’t see or hear the actor, or perhaps they’ll resort to letting us know that the character died sometime between the sequel you’re watching now and the previous installment. Or perhaps they killed off a character in the original film without knowing how popular that character would become, so for the sequel the writer has to figure out some kind of ludicrous way to bring him or her back. Perchance the writers think they’re really clever, they’ll play this card: “The events in the first film were only the beginning — there’s much deeper stuff going on here that you never knew about (neither did we, of course).” In the world of television it’s called “jumping the shark,” but in cinema I call it a Lame Sequel Premise. (The following article contains many spoilers, so proceed with caution.)
Alien³ (1992): Newt and Hicks died in hypersleep.
Had anyone told me that the director of this mess (also known as “Alien 3,” or “Alien Cubed,” or whatever else you want to call it) would end up being one of my favorite filmmakers, I would’ve laughed in their face. Granted, David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac) lost creative control while making the movie and now virtually disowns it, but still, the opening of Alien³ is beyond unforgivable: we find out that Rebecca “Newt” Jorden (Carrie Henn) and Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), two beloved characters from the previous installment, 1986’s Aliens, died during hypersleep. Aliens‘s director, James Cameron, reportedly called this plot development “a slap in the face” of the franchise’s fans, and that’s precisely what it felt like to this fan. As far as I’m concerned, the series consists of Ridley Scott’s original Alien (1979) and Cameron’s sequel and that’s where it ends. I’m not even going to get into the lame “Ripley was cloned” business that made 1997’s Alien: Resurrection possible.
Off-Screen Character Death Lame-o-meter Rating: Should’ve Quit While They Were Ahead.
Jaws: The Revenge (1987): Martin Brody died in a shark attack.
I mean, really — fuck off! Roy Scheider’s Amity Island police chief didn’t survive the events of 1975’s Jaws and, to a lesser extent, 1978’s Jaws 2 only to be eaten by a frickin’ shark! The setup of Jaws: The Revenge, the fourth installment (1983’s Jaws 3-D centered on Brody’s two sons), is even dumber: a shark with an apparent vendetta is attacking members of the Brody family one by one.
Off-Screen Character Death Lame-o-meter Rating: Shit Sandwich.
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979): The SS Poseidon had a shipment of plutonium on it.
I have to admit, I don’t remember much about this sequel to 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, and sorry, folks, but I wasn’t about to rewatch it to write this column. I remember bad guy Telly Savalas informing everyone that the Poseidon — a passenger liner, mind you — was carrying a lost plutonium shipment (and gold, apparently), and I remember nearly every scene concluding with good guy Michael Caine saying something to the effect of “We have to keep moving or this whole thing is going to blow” and then something suddenly exploding behind him. All I know is that even as a 14-year-old I didn’t buy it.
Bullshit Plot Twist Lame-o-meter Rating: You’re Right, This Whole Thing Blows.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986): The Freelings’ home was really built over a massive underground cavern.
I guess it wasn’t enough that the twist of the original Poltergeist (1982) was that the greedy real estate developer built the Freelings’ home over a cemetery, having moved the headstones but not the bodies. It turns out that beneath all those corpses is a massive underground cave where a Satanic cult perished in the 1800s, and the leader of that cult, Reverend Kane (Julian Beck), somehow became the beast who keeps coming after little Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke).
Bullshit Plot Twist Lame-o-meter Rating: A Little More Explanation Than We Needed.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977): The demon who possessed Regan MacNeil begins targeting people with psychic abilities.
It claimed to be the Devil, but I guess it lied, because it turns out it was really an Assyrian demon named Pazuzu that possessed Regan (Linda Blair) in William Friedkin’s 1973 horror masterpiece. It’s explained in John Boorman’s sequel that Pazuzu specifically goes after those with psychic healing powers, and guess who’s showing signs of telepathic abilities?
Bullshit Plot Twist Lame-o-meter Rating: If Only They’d Been Clairvoyant Enough to Not Make the Movie in the First Place.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995): Hans Gruber had a brother.
Shortly after Jeremy Irons’s character, Simon, was introduced in the third Die Hard, I had a bad feeling. I turned to my friend and whispered, “He’s not going to turn out to be Hans Gruber’s brother, is he?” My friend instantly rejected the notion, saying, “They wouldn’t do anything like that,” meaning the caliber of writing for any new Die Hard adventure was obviously above such nonsense. But my hunch turned out to be correct: the bad guy is out to avenge the death of Alan Rickman’s Hans in the original film. Yeah, it turns out to be a diversion for an even bigger heist than Hans’s, but I had long since checked out of With a Vengeance by that point.
Sudden Sibling Lame-o-meter Rating: Yippee-ki-this!
Another 48 Hrs. (1990): Albert Ganz had a brother.
It also turns out James Remar’s bad guy from 48 Hrs. (1982) had a brother. This one’s named Cherry (Andrew Divoff, known these days for playing Mikhail, a.k.a. Patchy, on Lost), and just like Simon Gruber, he’s out for revenge. In addition to this nonsense, the plot of Another 48 Hrs. revolves around an unseen character known as “the Ice Man,” who hires people to kill Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) because Reggie knows the heavy’s true identity. Falling into the Bullshit Plot Twist department, the Ice Man turns out to be police detective Jack Cates’s (Nick Nolte) partner, Kehoe (Brion James), despite the fact that Kehoe didn’t seem to be worried about Reggie at all in the first movie.
Bullshit Plot Twist and Sudden Sibling Lame-o-meter Rating: It Took Four Writers to Come Up With This Script?
City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994): Curly had a twin brother.
Listen up, folks — if you kill off a character in a movie, you can’t bring him back for the sequel (unless it’s Spock, of course). Curly’s death in the original City Slickers (1991) provided a darkly humorous and poignant moment — Jack Palance took home an Oscar for his performance — and the character turned out to be an important element of the first film’s success. But bringing Palance back to play a different yet extremely similar character was a little shady.
Sudden Sibling Lame-o-meter Rating: It Appears That Curly’s “One Thing” Was Sequel Money.
Return of the Jedi (1983): The Empire built another Death Star with an even bigger weakness.
Now, I really don’t mean to dis Jedi — in all honesty I love the movie — but I distinctly remember groaning when I discovered the plot was primarily a rehash of Star Wars (1977): the Empire has built another Death Star, only this time with an unstable reactor thingy smack dab in its center, because that way it’s still possible for the Rebel Alliance to blow it up. And let’s not forget that Yoda was against the idea of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) facing off against Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), yet when Luke returns to Dagobah in Jedi, Yoda says his training will be complete after he does one last thing: “Vader … you must confront Vader.”
Lazy Writing Lame-o-meter Rating: Whatever … Just Go With It.